Following on from TwoMorrows’ and Tim Leong’s news from last week, Warren Ellis ponders comics journalism and print:
Now, obviously, I’m an old guy. My notion of what makes a good comics magazine comes from the 80s, pre-net. In fact, I worked on a comics magazine back then, Speakeasy, which was very informed and influenced by music papers. It was a monthly, and we didn’t have a huge problem getting stuff reviewed within a month of its release. Obviously, we weren’t affecting things within the week of their new-release cycle. But, hell, even the music paper came out every two weeks. It was a slower time. That said, you could still find the comics being reviewed, as indeed you could now.
Music papers were the grail of arts writing, back then. There was a period in the 80s where the best cultural writing anywhere was being done in the music inkies. And the majority of this was happening in the reviews sections. These weren’t enthusiastic amateurs who thought that ten years of reading superhero comics (or skimming them behind a desk) qualified them. These were people who were hired (very important) because they lived and breathed and understood music and who could write and communicate brilliantly.
And what they did was write with passion and in an informed manner. These were people who knew what they were talking about, and who could contextualise what they were feeling about the work at hand, be it excitement or disappointment.
I avoid reading reviews of my own work, as a rule, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read reviews of other peoples’ work and just thought, “it’s not that I disagree with your opinion, but that your opinion is based on you just plain not understanding what you read.” Or, worse, the chill of realising the reviewer just doesn’t know anything about how comics are put together; the equivalent of a music reviewer hearing guitars and thinking they’re clarinets. Which is not something you see often in music writing. And I get this from some of the best-known comics reviewers; I recall one well-regarded guy stating that a book was sloppy because it was cutting its scenes in the middle of the page instead of at the end. Which I imagine came as news to, say, Jaime Hernandez.
All of which doesn’t sound like an argument for comics reviews, I know. And I know I’ve never expressed fondness for critics in general, not least for the above-cited reasons. But people who can write about the medium with passion are in short supply. And their importance is in infecting people with that same passion… A good arts writer makes you feel like this is the time and this is the place: like something of importance is happening — and communicates the core of the experience to you.
This post – and the resulting thread – leads to Heidi MacDonald being just one of a number of people wondering “Can you trust Newsarama?*”:
I work for a legitimate news outlet — Publishers Weekly Comics Week — but when attempting to write my own “report” on certain news stories I’ve actually been told the only statement anyone would make was up on Newsarama, which already has a sweetheart deal set up with the big players at DC and Marvel to put up weekly press releases on thoroughly vetted subjects.
Of course, if I were a real journalist, I would do an end around and get some of those people who, “would not be named because of the sensitive nature of the discussion,” or even find someone who would speak ON the record and write an actual story. But I’m lazy, and to be honest the cost-to-benefit ratio of such an enterprise would not be worth it right now.
That’s why I can’t get mad at Matt Brady, or Jonah Weiland, or anyone, really. They all have the exact same cost-to-benefit ratio I face. But without Michael Dean, who stopped running his interminable-but-well-researched news investigations for The Comics Journal in order to take over as editor, we’re pretty much sunk. There’s no one out there to investigate DC’s recent sales collapse, or what Marvel’s new film studio really means for their publishing arm, or why Dark Horse has such a hard time getting its book in print in time for movie releases, or the future of Image Comics, or what’s up at IDW, or what the hell is wrong with Travis Charest, or how certain companies that seem to have no real reason for staying in business actually stay in business, and so on and so forth.
* – The real answer, of course, is that you probably shouldn’t trust any news outlet. Especially not one that I’m writing for.